Oil spewing from crack in seafloor of Gulf of Mexico was fifty feet from Deepwater Horizon well

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico seen from space on June 22.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

After an investigation, Wikinews has learned that oil spewing from a rupture in the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico on June 13 was 50 to 60 feet from the Deepwater Horizon leak.

A nearly four and a half minute video posted on YouTube on June 13 was from the Viking Poseidon ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) 1. It shows oil and methane leaking from the seafloor at around 2:48 a.m. on June 13. The ROV monitors the leak for a minute and even gets covered in a plume of oil and sand before it moved on to the next spot. Smaller eruptions were seen as the ROV traveled, making the leak locations vary from 50 to 60 feet from the damaged well.

Until now, there was no way to determine the location of the ROVs in relation to the previously leaking Deepwater Horizon well. Alexander Higgins, an independent computer programmer, developed the 'Gulf Oil Spill ROV UTM Distance Calculator.' Using the coordinates for the location of the Deepwater Horizon, and the location of the Viking Poseidon on June 13, Wikinews was able to determine that the first rupture and leak was approximately 50.45 feet from the leaking well or "21.56 feet [n]orth and 45.61 feet [w]est" of the Deepwater leak point.

Higgins told Wikinews how he created the calculator, and says it is "very accurate," but that the tool would "not give you accurate measurements over a large distance, e.g. from the well head to New Orleans."

"This tool was created using java script that uses basic Pythagorean theorem (A^2 + B^2 = C^2) to calculate the distance between two points. The distance is simply \sqrt{(N_1 - N_2)^2 + (E_1 - E_2)^2 }. ROV coordinates match the location within a few feet when looking at the well because obviously the ROV can not be over the exact center because that is where the BOP is," said Higgins.

BP, who owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon, has denied that any oil or methane gas is leaking from the sea floor. On July 16, Kent Wells, the senior vice president of BP, said on their official Twitter page that "4 ROVs using sonar scanning [are] looking for anomalies in seabed floor. No indications any oil or gas escaping." Seismic tests were conducted on July 16; Admiral Thad Allen of the United States Coast Guard said that "no anomalies" were found, but also that the tests were "not comprehensive."

On Sunday, Wikinews contacted BP, who authenticated the video, and asked if any ROVs were sent back to the crack and leak location on June 13 for further investigation. According to their office in London, England, they "sent ROVs to investigate and monitor that and no further signs of oil or gas were found." They also stated that they "have continued to monitor" and "have also carried out seismic surveys. Nothing found to give concern." Wikinews also asked if they could confirm the location of the leak and crack, but no response was given.

However, on July 18, the Associated Press reported that there was "seepage" coming from the area at the bottom of the Deepwater well head. For the past two days, ROV cameras showed bubbles coming from the base of well. BP said it would test the bubbles to determine what they are and as of Sunday, COO of BP Doug Suttles says the bubbles are not methane, but further tests are being conducted. "If you can imagine, it is not an easy operation to collect those bubbles so that they can be tested to see what their make-up is."

Since the June 13 video surfaced, other videos have been posted to YouTube allegedly showing some of the ROVs being tossed around by large amounts of oil seeping through the seafloor. One video showed an alleged eruption spraying oil and debris around the BOA DEEP C 2 ROV before it was tossed from side to side. It then immediately retreated to the surface. Some of the cracks on ocean floors, where oil has leaked from, have occurred naturally. One such oil spill in California in 2005 was the result of a naturally occurring crack in the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Some of those cracks can cause oil to leak through at a rate as high as 5,000 gallons a day, with most of the oil not even reaching the water's surface. In the Gulf of Mexico, oil leaks through natural cracks at a rate several times less than leaked from the Deepwater well.

"The Deepwater Horizon site releases 3 to 12 times the oil per day compared to that released by natural seeps across the entire Gulf of Mexico. By May 30, the Deepwater Horizon site had released between 468,000 and 741,000 barrels of oil, compared to 60,000 to 150,000 barrels from natural seeps across the entire Gulf of Mexico over the same 39 day period," said Cutler Cleveland, a Boston University professor at the university's Department of Geography and Environment.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill started on April 20 after an explosion on the rig. Efforts to put out the fire failed and the rig subsequently sank to the bottom of the Gulf. On April 22, an oil slick appeared on the surface of the Gulf. BP capped the leaking well on July 13 which effectively stopped oil from leaking into the Gulf. The company has been running a pressure integrity test on the 150,000 pound cap for 48 hours. Earlier on July 17, they announced the test would continue for another day. BP hopes for the well's pressure to rise to or above 7,500 PSI. As of Saturday morning the well's pressure was just above 6,700 PSI. BP fears anything lower than the expected PSI could mean a leak in the cap or elsewhere, such as oil or methane seeping up from the seafloor.

"We are feeling more comfortable we have integrity. We will keep monitoring and make the decisions as we go forward. The longer the test goes the more confidence we have in it," said Allen.


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